20060518

Stormcloud of Unknowing

Barthes is right and wrong when he asserts that writing "by refusing to assign a 'secret,' an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases--reason, science, law."

This "truly revolutionary" activity of refusing to fix meaning is anti-theological and is a refusal of "God and his hypostases--reason, science, law"...yes and yes again (for what he says here is eminently comprehensible). BUT, I see the revolutionary activity of refusing to fix meaning as even more radical.

We collect what data we can, as reliably as we can, sensitive to the relative position of the observer, sensitive to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. We collect and do not deliberately alter or invent data that is then presented as unaltered and collected.

We do not fix meaning, for to fix meaning would be to assert that we know more than we possibly know (to assert, in short, that all of the data is in). We may hypothesize, theorize, fantasize all we like about the meaning of the data that we have collected (and why not? it is a joy for some and bears fruitful yield of further data and data caches). But we do not forget that fixity of meaning is proscribed by relativity and by the immmensity and unpredictability of uncollected data in space and time.

We true revolutionaries of the twenty first century refuse those "hypostases--reason, science, law" in order to recover those other hypostases, the truer fundamentals of our relative position with regard to everything else: that there is an immensity and unpredictability of uncollected data in a space-time that is itself either infinite or not yet finally calculable.

In the context of these fundamentals--immensity, incalculability, and unknowing--the so-called "hypostases" of reason, science, and law, God and theology, along with all other human inventions, are brought into the sharp light of recollection, and crumble to dust, their spurious fixity broken and shattered.

We refuse to fix meaning, because we do not have either the scope or the tools necessary to fix it. We collect and we theorize, letting our imaginations play without forgetting that it is play.

Sometimes we may imagine that there is someone who holds together in a single field all the traces, all of the bits and fragments of data, by which the world as text (and the written text) is constituted. And sometimes we may imagine that there is no single field that can hold it all together, that only a plurality of fields can hold it all. And other times we may imagine that it all simply cannot be held, that some of it (though not this fallen catbird, in this particular icebox) is thrown out in handfuls, fleeting, uncollected, irrecoverable.

We float, as Barthes dreamt of floating. And yet we are not without fundament and underpinning, we have our hypostases: a secure sense of our own relativity contained within immensity, incalculability, and the tremendous stormcloud of unknowing. There is a faith here and a fundamentalism: our eyes open, an umbrella at hand.